The Basics of Law


Law is the system of rules governing the conduct of a community, enforced by a controlling authority through penalties. The precise nature of laws and their origin is a matter of debate, but they can be broadly described as the product of social and historical evolution and development. Laws may be enacted by a legislative body, as statutes, or by the executive, through decrees and regulations. Laws can also be created by judges, through judicial precedent.

The practice of law consists of the activities involved in giving advice on legal matters, representing clients in court, and delivering judgments and punishments. Laws can be general or specific and can cover a wide range of topics, from criminal and property to taxation and family law. There are many different branches of law, such as aviation law, administrative law, constitutional law, and tort law.

In some countries, law is governed by a common law system, which relies on judicial decisions made in the course of trials. In this system, precedent is treated as on an equal footing with statutes and regulations. Other countries have a civil law system that codifies legal principles into a set of codes, which judges must follow in reaching their decisions.

Government officials responsible for deciding lawsuits are known as judges or magistrates. Their names are usually recorded in a registry of cases, which is called the docket. Some judges are considered especially important or influential, and are known as justices. Others are renowned for their legal expertise, and may be given titles of respect, such as Esquire to indicate that they have become members of the bar, or Doctor of Law, which indicates that they have earned a degree in law.

The law is a large and complex topic, covering many areas of social life. It is essential that people have access to the law, and that laws are fair and consistent. The rule of law depends on the checks and balances that are put in place to limit abuses of power by government or powerful individuals. This can include a free press, independent judiciary, and other mechanisms to ensure that the transition of power is peaceful and just. The extent to which governments and businesses are bound by the law depends on the underlying political, economic, and cultural system. Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology of law, reshaped thinking about the extent to which the state is bound by the law. Modern policing and bureaucracy, however, pose challenges to accountability that writers such as Locke and Montesquieu could not have foreseen. See also civil society; constitution; international law; and law, philosophy of.